Schools pitted against each other in fight to remain open

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A nearly empty room of supporters quickly filled last week as parents, teachers and community leaders made their last remarks on the school closings slated for Austin.

The final list for the 54 Chicago public schools slated to close will be voted on May 22 by the Chicago Board of Education.

“I feel like they already made their mind up,” said Kelly Bodkin, an art teacher at Louis Armstrong Elementary. Armstrong, a level 2 school that will be combined with May and Leland students in the current May building – though the school will be called Leland.

Based on CPS standards, Armstrong is considered 65 percent underutilized. Armstrong, May, Emmet and Key are slated for closure based on the space utilization criteria.

Like parents from other Austin schools, Armstrong supporters fear for their children’s safety as they cross gang lines and pass drug dealers to get to their “receiving” schools.

“The kids talked to me about their concerns,” said Bodkin. “Any time there is a change in Austin, you definitely fear for safety.”

As the public comment portion of the hearing held April 25 at the CPS Headquarters, 125 S. Clark St. continued, some speakers criticized other schools in hope of keeping their school opened.

“This process has been distressing. And tonight was the first time I really witnessed this process pitting schools against each other,” said Ald. Deborah Graham (29th). “It is disheartening, and it puts each of the schools in an awkward situation.”

Graham urged CPS officials to find the money “like they always do” and fund the schools so they can remain open.

In arguing for their school, Armstrong supporters told the arbitrator – a former Austin resident – that Leland’s evaluation was based on just 20 students and that May is a level 3 school.

Dwayne Truss, A Raise Your Hand board member and Austin resident, said the situation was uncomfortable and unfortunate for everybody.

“[CPS] put us in this predicament,” Truss said. “We’re being pitted against each other.”

Graham said this wouldn’t be the case if CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had kept her promise.

“Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she would not disturb schools that were making progress,” said Graham.

All three schools have improved, she said.

A sea of purple – Armstrong’s color – overwhelmed the room, while only a few May supporters showed up. May advocates also boycotted the school’s first community meeting on April 6.

Truss, who helped organize the May boycott, proposed an alternative plan and submitted it to the arbitrator at Thursday’s meeting.

“I submitted [the plan], but we will see what happens with it,” said Truss.

Leslie Lewis Elementary is slated to be a turnaround school. The public hearing for Lewis is May 2 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the CPS Headquarters downtown, 125 S. Clark St.



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